October 7, 2012

Dine Out Maine: At Eventide Oyster Co., Hugo's team sets the bar high


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At Eventide Oyster Co., wooden sticks mark the varieties like a bivalve garden plot. Diners can try a half- or full dozen ($15 and $27), grouped by “Maine” and “From Away,” accompanied by Mimosa Mignonette, Tomato Water or Horseradish Ice.

Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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86 Middle St., Portland. 774-8538; eventideoysterco.com

HOURS: 11 a.m. to midnight daily


PRICE: $4 to $32, with oysters priced at $27 per dozen and $15 for half-dozen

BAR: Full bar with specialty cocktails


KIDS: No children's menu

RESERVATIONS: Only for parties of six or more


BOTTOM LINE: Eventide Oyster Co. is impressive for its variety of oysters and clever oyster accoutrements, as well as the carefully prepared non-oyster menu items. The Eventide oyster bar concept is as cool as the team of owners, and I recommend this restaurant for any oyster lover seeking a step left of ordinary. The price point skews a little high, but so does the quality.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service and value:

* Poor  **Fair  *** Good ****Excellent *****Extraordinary.

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits an establishment twice if the first dining experience was unsatisfactory. The reviewer dines anonymously.

For oyster brunch, we opted for a dozen Dodge Cove oysters from Damariscotta -- restrained in salinity, midrange of body, and with a subtle citrus finish. Easier to describe are the accoutrements from the Eventide list. Standards like lemon (lemon juice tempers the oyster's salt taste) and cocktail sauce are available, but if you are feeling adventurous, try the Mimosa Mignonette, Tomato Water or Horseradish Ice. A bit of these condiments lifted from demitasse fork onto shell, and the oyster experience can change profoundly.

Eventide offers a menu of non-oyster entrees and sides, and I wanted to try each one. How do you decide between Kampachi Tartare ($10) and Local Yellowfin Crudo ($9)? Between Crispy Pork Belly ($17) and Battered Gulf of Maine Hake ($8)? And given the deliciousness of the quickly consumed charcuterie, I became even hungrier to see what the kitchen would do with standards like Baked Beans or Biscuits (each $4).

Trav and I ordered the Heirloom Tomatoes ($7) and the New England Clambake ($32). Savory pieces of red and green tomato arrived with a sprinkle of grilled bread crumbs and herbs on top. Simple and tasty, the way tomatoes are meant to be enjoyed.

The New England Clambake ($32), served in a bamboo steamer reminiscent of late-1970s infomercials, included a lobster tail, mussels, steamers, potato, salt pork, corn and a hard-boiled egg all tucked into a nest of rock seaweed. The contained presentation made for a lovely snack bowl, and we munched our way through the basic sampler.

While we ate, lingering without feeling rushed, I kept looking for some imperfection, some annoyance or arrogance -- any niggling aspect to criticize. But all I came up with is the limited seating. It could be a bummer, as the room space is small and there are just two picnic tables. That said, a ring of bar stools circles the interior, and patrons can choose a window seat or a view of the bar. At each of these seating options were typical Sunday people: Laughing groups of morning-after hipsters with '80s dance moves, graying Hemingway-esque gentlemen hunkered over a plate, a tourist couple and what looked like a meet-the-family situation in the corner. It was excellent people-watching on a sunny morning.

One benefit of sitting at the bar is seeing other preparations emerge from the kitchen, to include the Fried Oyster Bun ($7), a series of little po' boys -- mini buns with nuggets of breaded and fried oysters tucked inside. "For people who say they don't like oysters," Mike noted, and I made a mental note to return.

Honestly, when examined against the premise Eventide advertises -- upscale and well-prepared food that fills a distinct niche, in a casual and uniquely local space for a variety of incomes and clientele -- I found little to fault.

Eventide Oyster Co. sets a standard and ups the oyster game. Portland is lucky to have it in town.


The writer wishes to credit Rowan Jacobsen's "A Geography of Oysters: The Connoisseur's Guide to Oyster Eating in North America" (Bloomsbury USA, 2007).

Shonna Milliken Humphrey is a Maine freelance writer and author of the novel "Show Me Good Land.


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